Also believed to be interested in the account was Omnicom Group, either through its DDB Worldwide agency in New York or its GSD&M unit in Austin, Texas.
A spokeswoman for DDB denied that Omnicom was eyeing the account. GSD&M says it had not been in talks with Audi and had not been asked to meet with the company.
Len Hunt, Audi of America vice president, maintained there was no Audi pitch and the meetings were canceled "the minute it started getting out of hand."
Audi's U.S. sales have grown steadily in the last five years. Sales totaled 86,421 last year, up 31 percent since 1999.
Hunt expects a big sales increase when the smaller A3 car is introduced next year and Audi's first SUV the year after.
But parent Volkswagen AG's earnings have plunged. VW's third-quarter global profits fell in 2003 by 51 percent compared with the year-ago period to $254 million.
"Our German colleagues have been looking for efficiencies worldwide," says Mary Ellen Wilson, national advertising manager at Audi of America.
Lembke confirmed he had arranged meetings with at least three agencies during last month's Detroit auto show. But he says the meetings did not take place.
He says the meetings' purpose was educational.
"I wanted to learn more about the advertising world," says the German-born engineer who spent most of his 10-plus years at Germany's Audi AG in product planning.
Lembke says he decided to cancel the meetings late on Jan. 2, which was part of a long holiday weekend for most advertising agencies. Lembke says he was able to reach at least two agencies.
He declined to name those agencies but says two of the three that were invited already work with Audi and Volkswagen
Bartle Bogle Hegarty of London handles Audi's United Kindgom account. Wieden's Amsterdam office won a review in 1999 for Audi's pan-European A2 launch but was dropped in 2000.
DDB has handled VW for decades. It has the automaker's account in 26 countries outside the United States and has Audi in nine countries outside the United States.